Just before he was shot by a stranger furious over a car accident, just before he lay bleeding to death next to his screaming wife, Alex Gallman had walked his kids into school.
Many parents don't. They drive through the drop-off line, giving goodbye hugs and kisses from the front seat to the back. But not Alex.
Maybe it was because coming up with tuition money to Brainerd Baptist School was no easy thing for the Gallmans, so walking his two boys into school was a way to soak it all up. Maybe it let him say thanks to their teachers. Maybe it was just because he loved -- really, really loved -- his kids. After all, he was their basketball coach. He went on classroom field trips, the lone dad among many moms.
So walking Kaleb and Jayden in each morning? Helping them hang their backpacks on the classroom hooks? Giving them a wink or high-five goodbye?
"There wasn't a day you didn't see Alex on campus," said headmaster Sean Corcoran.
Thirteen days ago, he walked his sons into school for the last time. Leaving campus, Alex and his wife, Anna, drove their Honda CR-V -- he used it during the day, she took it to work at night -- down Mayfair Avenue, then turned right onto Moore Road.
According to Corcoran, who's spoken nearly every day with Anna, another car was coming from the opposite direction, turning left onto Moore. Police say it was driven by Richard Manning, 62, who had a gun. The two cars bumped into each other. Alex got out, Corcoran says, not to yell or attack, but to ask Manning to stop yelling and honking his horn.
"He was very soft-spoken and mild-mannered," Corcoran said of Alex. "He got out and said, 'Calm down. You're scaring my wife.' ... The guy shoots him."
Manning has been charged with criminal homicide and aggravated assault.
Alex, a personal trainer, was the main breadwinner. Anna works the dinner shift at Red Lobster. He was 39. There was no life insurance.
"Their concern is just survival at this point," Corcoran said.
Immediately following the shooting, Corcoran put the school on lockdown. Manning had driven off; no one knew where the shooter was. Soon, news trickled in; one photo from the crime scene showed a Honda. Someone whispered that it looked just like the Gallmans'.
A knot began to form inside Corcoran. Then Anna called, hysterical. Corcoran then went to find Kaleb and Jayden and tell them the one thing two boys should never hear.
"The dad that brought these kids to school this morning is not here this afternoon to pick them up," he said.
In their yearbook picture, Kaleb and Jayden look so much like their father; these soft eyes, brown hair, a look that is gentle and easy. It is innocence mixed with thoughtfulness, the look of a boy standing at the edge of a forest he has not yet entered, trying to decide if the creatures within are on his side or against him.
"The day after [the shooting], he shows up to school," Corcoran said of Kaleb. "His teacher is going over their homework, and she skipped him, trying to be sensitive. He raises his hand. 'I've got my homework. Why are you skipping me?'"
This week is Jayden's birthday. He turns 6. Both boys remind Corcoran of Alex.
"They're the kind of students you'd like to have 15 of in one class," Corcoran said.
The Brainerd Baptist School community has met this worst news with their best: teachers spending hours and hours with the kids -- during the school day and at the funeral. Parents have paid funeral costs. Another paid to clean the inside of their car, where Alex bled. Corcoran has waived tuition and brought in multiple counselors. Then, he got a call from a parent.
"She started the trust fund," Corcoran said.
The Gallman Trust Fund was created to help fund any immediate and long-term needs that the Gallman family -- Anna, Kaleb, Jayden and Alex's stepson Gabriel -- may have. Corcoran is encouraging Brainerd Baptist families -- and anyone else -- to donate (any SunTrust bank can accept donations to the Gallman Trust Fund).
"There is definitely a need and they are definitely worthy," he said.
Days after the shooting, I spoke with one of Alex's friends. He was out of town when he heard the news. He checked out of his hotel and drove through the night, from three states away, just so he could be at home when his kids woke up. So he could hug them.
So he could walk them to school.
Just like Alex would have done.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...